At some point, every turner or furniture builder who uses turned members or details is going to have to turn more than one of the same thing. Whether it’s a table leg or a flame finial, we’d like them to look-alike – exactly alike. Many people have asked me if I recommend buying a lathe duplicator. My answer is always quick, short and simple – NO!
The way to insure that your duplicate spindles look-alike is to learn how to construct and use 1/2 plan story sticks. These 1/2 plan templates allow the turner to create a grid pattern from which critical longitudinal and diametric measurements are transferred to the workpiece.
Note that in the above photo I’m actually using a full plan stick. By using a set of dividers, I’ve marked out the diameters at each longitudinal “station”. This operation allows me to render a full plan view and create measuring points that I can use to set my calipers to the appropriate diameters. (At each “station” I’ve made a little “v-notch” with a utility knife. This insures that I place my pencil in exactly the same place each time I use this story stick.)
Above, the calipers are used to gauge the diameters set out on the story stick. Several points in the above photo should be WELL REMEMBERED: Make sure that the points of new calipers have been BLUNTED AND ROUNDED. New calipers come with sharp points that WILL catch in the parting groove. DO NOT PUT YOUR FINGER IN THE CALIPER SPRING!!! DO NOT WEAR BAGGY CLOTHING WHEN WORKING WITH ANY ROTATING MACHINERY. (Obviously, I wasn’t dressed appropriately for this picture.)
After the diameters have been set in, begin working on the details. By using a story stick, you’ll find that you’re able to produce precise duplicates much more quickly and accurately than you would using a lathe duplicator (copier).
A last consideration is the use of a steady rest. Serious deflection and vibration can begin to occur in pieces as short as six inches (depending on diameter). This deflection will affect your ability to make exact duplicates. Spindles at twenty-four inches in length, will almost certainly deflect (unless they’re over three inches in diameter). Buy and use a steady rest. Your work will be all the better for it.